PC Laptops Are Interesting (and Competitive) Again

By Jake Swearingen

 

A Samsung Notebook Odyssey.Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

One of the standout themes of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was a surge in interesting PC laptops. Apple, once the high-water mark for laptop design, has stumbled as of late, and hot on its heels is an army of new PC laptops, many of which are showing off innovative industrial design, beastly specs, or a price that allows a full-featured laptop to cost about the same as a couple of parking tickets. Some ideas to look forward to in 2017 or beyond as you consider replacing your laptop.

Two-in-one laptops are the future

Also known as “convertible” laptops, these are computers that can function in two ways — as a traditional hinged laptop, with the screen sticking up and keyboard in front of you, or with the screen flipped all the way over to the backside of the keyboard and existing essentially as a large handheld tablet. These have been around for more than a decade, but lately have made a real comeback.

For the average laptop buyer, who probably needs something for a combination of schoolwork or business and entertainment, convertible laptops neatly split the difference between the two uses. You can type up a term paper or put together a PowerPoint, and then switch into tablet mode to watch a movie or mess around with games. Windows 10 still has issues with needing to be an OS for both keyboard and mouse and touch-based input, but it’s getting better (and Google is reportedly working on its “Andromeda” OS that seeks to solve that problem).

Some of the more interesting ones on display included the the Asus C302CA Convertible Chromebook, the Samsung Chromebook Pro, the long-lasting Toshiba’s Portégé X20W, and the business-oriented Dell Latitude 7285.

Manufacturers are now ripping off Microsoft hardware instead of only Apple

Two or three years ago, most laptop manufacturers were shamelessly aping the look of Apple’s MacBooks, aluminum unibodys and all. But this year you saw entrants like Lenovo’s Miix 720, which is about as direct an homage and/or rip-off of Microsoft’s Surface Pro series as you can get. Microsoft’s early hardware stumbles in this decade are well documented (the original Surface resulted in nearly $1 billion in losses for Redmond), but it seems that continuing to forge ahead is paying off. It can be argued that the resurgence of two-in-one laptops is a direct response to the success of Microsoft’s own Surface Book as well.

PC laptops are becoming viable alternatives for many Apple fans

It was impossible to ignore some of the rebukes on the floor to the most recent MacBook Pro. HP made a laptop slightly thicker to enhance battery life, versus the ever-slimmer MacBook Pro and its continuing battery woes. Dell directly taunted Apple by offering up its XPS 15, a laptop that mirrors the specs of a 15-inch MacBook Pro — for $400 less. And Samsung’s Notebook 9 managed to maintain the ultraslim profile of the MacBook Pro — while still including an HDMI output.

Of course, PC laptops have generally (but not always!) outperformed Macs when compared side by side. And switching to Windows from years of using OSX can be rough, if exhilarating. But devs and graphic artists and, yes, bloggers like me have all long relied on MacBooks. Unless next year sees a major turnaround in what’s offered, many are considering jumping ship. And the PC laptop market is waiting with open arms.

Gaming laptops are only getting more popular (and ugly)

 

Buying a gaming laptop can seem mystifying to both general users and hardcore PC gamers. General users may be turned off by the Mountain Dew Code Gamer aesthetics of your average gaming PC. Hardcore gamers can build a desktop PC with equivalent specs for half the price of your average gaming laptop (and be able to upgrade it throughout its lifespan as well, which some gaming laptops are unable to do).

But! Check in on various PC gaming message boards and you’ll see tons of questions asking about the best gaming laptop. There’s a market for people who either want a portable way to play graphically demanding games or just like the idea of something portable for a LAN party.

So, this year we saw Razer’s three-screen prototype (two of which were apparently stolen from CES?), monstrosities like 21-inch Acer Predator ($9,000), Samsung entering the fray with its Notebook Odyssey line of gaming laptops, the relatively subdued Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, and many more. You don’t see this many new laptops, or new companies in a space, without number-crunchers somewhere determining there’s a viable market.

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